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Shelf Care: Reads and Reviews

I take time to choose the books I read. Many are recommendations from my friends and cousins, paired with combing the internet for reviews, round-ups, and listicles. I often log books I'm drawn to in my ever-growing To Read list on my Goodreads account, and open this page up again after finishing a book. The choice depends on my mental state (do I want to read something deep and intellectual or something light and funny?), current curiosities (e.g., skincare, gender, relationships, cultures), mental bandwidth (a 136-paged novella or a 500+ paged novel?), and the emotional impact of the last book (wuw).

Here are short reviews of 10 books I read recently, in hopes that they guide you in choosing your next book too.

Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves by James Nestor

Six-word synopsis: We're all born of the ocean.

Why I picked it up: I missed being in the water, so I figured I'd just read about it.

Favorite line/s: "There are no mobile phones down there, no e-mails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: People are doing crazy things to, for, and in the ocean (myself included, maybe?).

How I’d recommend it: If you want to learn more about freediving, ocean research, and the sea without wading through academic terms, this is a great read. Just a heads up that it's not all romance - you'll read about accidents, deaths, and other wince-worthy scenes.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Six-word synopsis: Weird is wonderful. Find your weirdo(s).

Why I picked it up: I asked my Instagram followers for funny book recommendations, and this was recommended by @misslapuz. I looked it up on Goodreads and it had five-star reviews.

Favorite line/s: "But it's still love; animals, people. It's unconditional, and it's both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: Being "fine" can sometimes mean burying layers of trauma and pain.

How I’d recommend it: It's funny but manages to stay raw, amusing but remains tender in all the right places.

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

Six-word synopsis: Yes and no are complete sentences.

Why I picked it up: Another answer from my request for "funny book recommendations." Seemed easy enough since I'm a fan of Amy Poheler.

Favorite line/s: "You have to care about your work, but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: There's a thin line between being funny (full stop) and being funny at the expense of others. Poehler opens up about the time she crossed it and (eventually) took accountability for it. Also, we all need a Tina Fey-Amy Poehler level of friendship in our lives.

How I’d recommend it: Interesting to learn some behind-the-scenes trivia about Amy Poehler's career, but the uneven writing couldn't save the entire book. Funny and sharp at times, too snarky and stretched in others.

Skincare: the Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide by Caroline Hirons

Six-word synopsis: The bible of skincare junkies everywhere.

Why I picked it up: In a world of paid influencers spewing bullshit, Tita Caroline always keeps it real. I've been a fan of hers for years, and started reading this book the day it came out.

Favorite line/s: "The goal is healthy skin, not to make you look permanently surprised. Aging is a privilege not everybody gets."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: It made me more conscious of using terms like "green" and "clean" to describe skincare products. As Tita Caroline wrote, "But the opposite of clean is dirty, and who wants their diet or skincare to be classed as such? Therein lies the selling power."

How I’d recommend it: Whatever level of skincare enthusiasm you possess, you'll learn something new. There's a section on when to apply skincare before/after workouts, the correct order of layering skincare, and my favorite chapter, demystifying "clean" and "green" beauty. In every topic, Tita Caroline manages to be both science-based and LOL-level of funny.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow

Six-word synopsis: Friends can be our true loves.

Why I picked it up: I had listened to their podcast Call Your Girlfriend a couple of times, and was interested to read a book that places friendship at its center.

Favorite line/s: "The ease of having been so close to each other for long can actually create a threat because so much goes unsaid, so much is assumed. It's easy to forget that we're all changing constantly."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: I've always known that big friendships take work, but this reminded me to keep putting in the work, no matter how close I think I am with someone. There's also a chapter on how race and class can make friendships complicated.

How I’d recommend it: The shift between third-person "Ann" and "Aminatou" to the first-person "we" can be sometimes jarring, and the transitions between stories and data aren't always smooth. Overall, I appreciated reading a book explicating how much friendships can mean to our lives. My Big Friendships are of utmost importance to me (formal?!).

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Six-word synopsis: You can't run away from family.

Why I picked it up: This book was featured in so many Best Books of 2020 listicles, and it was highly recommended by Chely.

Favorite line/s: "Like leaving, the hardest part of returning was deciding to."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: Even if you and your siblings are brought up in the same place and same socioeconomic conditions, there's no way to predict how that will impact you and how differently you will choose to live your lives.

How I’d recommend it: The first 25% was slow -- there's a lot of scene-setting and showing the interwoven relationships. I read the remaining 75% in one Saturday, cancelling my plans because I JUST HAD TO KNOW what happened to Desiree and Stella.

War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line by David Nott

Six-word synopsis: False humility enveloped in humanitarian work.

Why I picked it up: It was our book club pick of the month.

Favorite line/s: "Society demands heroes, but we don't necessarily want them to be too human. We don't want messiness."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: There's no such thing as pure altruism - there's always a percentage of self-interest somewhere there. I think Nott doesn't realize how much self-interest is in his version of altruism. I found myself rolling my eyes at so many parts. The content resulted in a good book club discussion though!

How I’d recommend it: I... don't recommend it. Hahahaha. If you're interested in a memoir with a similar theme, go for Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Six-word synopsis: Our standards of beauty are destructive.

Why I picked it up: It was our book club pick of the month, and I was excited to finally read the critically acclaimed novel.

Favorite line/s: "The best hiding place was love."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: There's so much pain and oppression to unpack, and we need to examine why these topics make us uncomfortable.

How I’d recommend it: Well. This is definitely not a beach read. I struggled with the style and pace, and themes like racism and violence. I hate saying this about a Toni Morrison novel, but I wouldn't have finished it if not for the book club discussion.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Six-word synopsis: Some want simple lives. That's okay.

Why I picked it up: I fell into a reading rut after The Bluest Eye and needed to read something light and easy. A quick win.

Favorite line/s: "It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: We always judge people based on what careers they have and how they progress in their chosen careers. There are people are happy with where they are - no next big steps, no promotions.

How I’d recommend it: It's only 163 pages, with a simple and amusing plot.

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Six-word synopsis: There's no manual for raising children.

Why I picked it up: Another book club pick! (I obviously love my book club.)

Favorite line/s: "Easy is nice, but it's not as good as getting to be who you are or stand up for what you believe in."

The takeaway that’s stuck with me: Parents want the best for their children, sure, but "best" can be subjective. What's "best" for one can be damaging for another. It's hard to be a parent, but also hard to be a child. (Actually, it's hard to be a human being.)

How I’d recommend it: The book is about parents who raise five sons, and one of them wishes to be a daughter. The story brings up complicated questions and decisions about deciding for your children or letting them decide, then dealing with the consequences of those decisions (or lack of decisions). It may or may not be a tear-jerker! (I definitely cried.)


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